Summary: Chemical hazards in commercial kitchens can lead to a variety of negative health effects in restaurant workers. Learn how to prevent chemical hazards in the kitchen to provide a safe working environment.

Common Chemical Hazards in a Commercial Kitchen

When restaurant owners think about the potential hazards their employees face as they go about their daily duties, what most often comes to mind are slippery floors that can cause a fall, cuts and punctures from the chopping involved in food prep, or burns from a hot stove or fryer.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that even cleanup can pose inherent risks to restaurant workers. This is because the cleansers, soaps, degreasers, sanitizers and floor cleaners used in commercial kitchens often contain hazardous chemicals that can affect the health of employees.

Chemical Hazards in Restaurants: The Effects of Exposure

Cleaning supplies used in restaurants are among the top chemical hazards in the kitchen. Certain types of cleaners have been known to cause headaches, eye injuries and skin injuries. In fact, over 13 million workers in the country, including restaurant employees, are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin on a daily basis. These chemicals can also be inhaled or even ingested as the result of eating in a contaminated area. And, once a toxic chemical has made contact with or within the body, the results can lead to acute or chronic health issues.

Some of the negative health effects restaurant workers face from exposure to hazardous chemicals include:

  • Respiratory issues: Chemicals like chlorine and ammonia, often components of many cleaning materials, can cause problems with the respiratory system, especially irritating the nose and throat. Additionally, these two solutions mixed together can cause a chemical reaction and release a deadly gas.
  • Burns: Oven cleaners, drain openers and grill cleaners are often composed of chemicals that can burn the skin and eyes.
  • Skin irritation and infections: Some detergents, soaps and even latex gloves can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction. Additionally, if the skin is broken it becomes more susceptible to infections when it comes into contact with hazardous chemicals.

How to Prevent Chemical Hazards in Kitchen

Protecting Commercial Kitchen Workers by Preventing Chemical Exposure in Restaurants

Employers can help prevent chemical exposure and improve the health and safety of their employees in several ways. For example:

  • Provide personal protective equipment. Employees should be equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, aprons and eyewear before performing various cleanup tasks.
  • Read the labels. Simply by reading the labels of the cleaning supplies and other chemicals, restaurant workers learn how to properly handle, use and mix them.
  • Invest in non-toxic cleaners. There are a variety of cleaning products that are much less toxic than some conventional cleaners. Whenever possible, use the least-toxic products available. Additionally, some establishments use floor wax stripper, caustic oven cleaners and other strong acids as cleaning materials that can be very dangerous to employees’ eyes. If these cleaners must be used, consider keeping containers of buffered eye wash solution on hand in the case of accidental splashes to the eyes, or even install a plumbed-in eyewash station.
  • Make sure to properly label cleaning supplies. While it’s recommended to keep chemicals in their original containers, you can help prevent improper mixing and handling by labeling every bottle of cleaning solution and any other chemicals kept in your establishment. The label should clearly state the contents of the spray bottle or container and list the common hazards of the chemicals inside.
  • Utilize automated dispensers. Help reduce employee exposure to commercial kitchen chemicals by installing automated dispensers. These dispensers help ensure the proper chemical concentration by only dispensing the amount needed.
  • Provide ongoing training to kitchen staff. Ensure all restaurant workers understand the dangers of working with hazardous chemicals by providing ongoing training. This training not only allows them to understand how to correctly use cleaning supplies, but also how to react in the event of an emergency.

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